WASHINGTON - The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has delayed enforcement of the crystalline silica dust standard, which aims to curb lung cancer, silicosis, and other ailments suffered by those cutting stone countertops and similar materials.

The agency has determined that additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements in the construction standard. Originally scheduled to begin June 23, 2017, enforcement will now begin Sept. 23, 2017.

The OSHA rule sets two standards, one for construction and a separate one for general industry and maritime sectors. A total 2.3 million workers are exposed to crystalline silica in their workplaces, including 2 million construction workers who drill, cut, crush, or grind silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in general industry operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries, and oil fracking work.

OSHA believes the rule could save over 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year, with net benefits of about $7.7 billion annually by reducing medical and other expenses.

Specifically, the rule will require employers:

  • Use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure to the PEL;
  • Provide respirators when engineering controls cannot adequately limit exposure
  • Limit worker access to high exposure areas
  • Develop a written exposure control plan
  • Offer medical exams to highly exposed workers
  • Train workers on silica risks and how to limit exposures

OSHA says a full review of scientific evidence, industry consensus standards, and extensive stakeholder input provide the basis for the final rule, which was proposed in September 2013. The rule-making process allowed OSHA to solicit input in various forms for nearly a full year. The agency held 14 days of public hearings, during which more than 200 stakeholders presented testimony, after which OSHA says it made substantial changes, including enhanced employer flexibility in choosing how to reduce levels of respirable crystalline silica, while maintaining or improving worker protection.